HOOK AND FUR
By Bob Brown
Gray wolves are expanding their territory in Washington, according to a recent survey conducted by the WDFW.
At a public meeting held earlier this month in Olympia, wildlife managers told the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission that four new gray wolf packs were established within the state last year, bringing the total confirmed packs to 13, five successful breeding pairs and at least 52 individuals.
Donny Martorello, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) carnivore specialist, said while officials can’t count every wolf in the state, the formation of four new packs is clear evidence the wolf population is increasing in Washington. The new packs are located in the Wenatchee, Ruby Creek, Dirty Shirt, and Carpenter Ridge areas. Martorello also said that despite their growing numbers, wolves were involved in fewer conflicts with humans and livestock last year than in the previous year.
The department investigated 20 reported attacks on pets and livestock last year, but found wolves were actually involved in only four of them. The attacks left one calf dead and three dogs injured. By comparison, wolves killed seven calves and one sheep in 2012, and injured six calves and two sheep. Most of those attacks were made by the Wedge Pack on a single rancher’s cattle in northwest Washington. WDFW ultimately killed seven members of the pack to stop escalating attacks, although two wolves are still traveling as a pack in the same area.
While wolf expansion might be good news for some individuals, it is not for others and definitely not for deer, elk and other prey animals. What the department hasn’t commented on is the effect gray wolves are having on those animals. Idaho has a wolf predator control program in place, and the question might be asked: Does Washington have a similar program?
The Columbia Basin News Bulletin reported March 7 that Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services completed a wolf control action in northern Idaho’s Lolo elk zone near the Idaho-Montana border last month to improve poor elk survival in the area. The Lolo zone is steep, rugged country, difficult to access, especially in winter. Using a helicopter, Wildlife Services agents killed 23 wolves. This was the sixth control action taken by the agency in the Lolo zone during the last four years. The Lolo elk population has declined drastically from 16,000 elk in 1989 to roughly 2,100 in 2010.
The IDFG estimates there were 75 to 100 wolves in the Lolo zone at the start of 2013 hunting season with additional animals crossing back and forth between Idaho and Montana and from other elk zones. Some 25 wolves were killed there during the previous five actions. The goal of the IDFG is to reduce the wolf population in the Lolo zone by 70 percent. The department said it prefers to manage wolf populations using hunters and trappers and only authorizes control actions where harvest has been insufficient to meet management goals.
Under Washington’s wolf-management plan, wolves can be removed from the state’s endangered species list once 15 successful breeding pairs are documented for three consecutive years among three designated wolf recovery regions or 18 successful breeding pairs in one year among three designated wolf-recovery regions. No wolf packs or breeding pairs have been documented on the South Cascades/Northwest Coast recovery region.
Federal listing of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act is presently under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In June 2013, the agency announced a proposal to remove gray wolves nationwide from the list. A decision is expected by the end of 2014.
Steelhead survival rates
WDFW has designated the East Fork Lewis, North Fork Toutle/Green and Wind rivers as wild steelhead gene banks and will no longer release hatchery raised steelhead into those waters. WDFW director Phil Anderson said the actions are part of the statewide effort to help conserve and restore wild steelhead, particularly those listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Studies have shown hatchery fish can compete with wild steelhead for spawning partners, which can reduce survival rates of wild steelhead because of interbreeding.
The department plans to open fishing seasons in those new wild steelhead zones, targeting hatchery fish that will be returning to those rivers for at least two more years. Catch-and-release fishing for wild steelhead may also be allowed in later years. WDFW will continue to support fishing opportunities in other local rivers, including the mainstem Toutle, South Fork Toutle, Cowlitz, Kalama, Salmon, Washougal, and mainstem and North Fork Lewis rivers. The department plans to create additional steelhead gene banks throughout the state in the years ahead.
Bob Brown can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org